Friday, May 16, 2008

Trying to Connect

I’ve been trying for just over a week without success to contact our Kusassi co-worker, Pastor Emmanuel, in Burkina Faso. Since coming home in September of 2005, I made arrangements to talk with him by phone every 3-4 weeks to encourage him and see how he and his family are doing, how the pastors and churches in the Kusassi region are doing, and to catch up on what’s happening in his part of the world. But calling Pastor Emmanuel in Burkina is not nearly as easy as calling someone here in North America!

First of all, he doesn’t have a phone in his home. So, in order to take my call, he has to travel a couple of kilometres from his home to a telephone centre in town. This is a place where people can make or receive calls for a certain fee or rate. The centre is run like a business, with an employee reading the digital fee meter and collecting the money owed following the call.

Secondly, unpredictable things can happen to disrupt our established call time. Either he or I may miss the appointed day and time due to unexpected situations or events. The phone on his end may not be working properly, or the line may be down somewhere following a storm. I may not be able to get through for some reason on my end. And sometimes even when we do succeed, the connection is so bad that we can barely communicate.

This was especially the case in the beginning. Echoes, static, intermittent voice cut-out, and delayed response all plagued our early conversations. But things gradually got better, to the point where, for the past year or more, I could have sworn Pastor Emmanuel was right in the next room each time I called him!

Before hanging up, we always made arrangements for the next call in terms of date and time. If either one of us missed it or we were unable to connect for some other reason, the agreed-upon procedure was to try again the following day at exactly the same time. If we still didn’t connect, we’d try again the next day, and the next, until we succeeded. In the past, 2-3 days was the longest we’d had to go.

This time, however, we were on the eighth day. For most of my previous tries, I’d simply been unable to get through. Since it’s the beginning of the rainy season in Burkina, a time of violent rainstorms, I thought perhaps the telephone lines had been damaged over there. However, on a couple of occasions, I was able to get through to the tele-centre employee on duty and leave a message that I would try again the next day.

Today, after 3 tries, I finally managed to get Pastor Emmanuel himself. But it was the most awkward connection we’d had in a long time. There was a full 5-second delay in our words reaching the other person. At first we simply thought the other person couldn’t hear us. Then we ended up talking over each other. Finally, we each resorted to the old telegraph method of saying, “Stop” or “I’m finished talking” when we were done, thus signalling the other person that it was his turn to speak. It made for a rather awkward conversation, but it worked.

I was relieved to hear that Pastor Emmanuel and his family were fine, as were the church leaders in the region. Also that he was able to get the funds we sent him last month for food supplies. Due to an overabundance of rain last year, his crops were largely ruined and what he did manage to harvest was not sufficient to see him and his family through until the next harvest.

We made arrangements for me to call again in 3 weeks. I sure hope we have a better connection next time!

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